Hot Best Seller

On Chapel Sands: The Mystery of My Mother's Disappearance as a Child

Availability: Ready to download

INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez Laura Cumming shares the riveting story of her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—and how that event reverberated through her own family and her art for decades. In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez Laura Cumming shares the riveting story of her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—and how that event reverberated through her own family and her art for decades. In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she was kidnapped from a beach on the Lincolnshire coast of England. There were no screams when she was taken, suggesting the culprit was someone familiar to her, and when she turned up again in a nearby village several days later, she was found in perfect health and happiness. No one was ever accused of a crime. The incident quickly faded from her memory, and her parents never discussed it. To the contrary, they deliberately hid it from her, and she did not learn of it for half a century. This was not the only secret her parents kept from her. For many years, while raising her in draconian isolation and protectiveness, they also hid the fact that she’d been adopted, and that shortly after the kidnapping, her name was changed from Grace to Betty. In Five Days Gone, Laura Cumming brilliantly unspools the tale of her mother’s life and unravels the multiple mysteries at its core. Using photographs from the time, historical documents, and works of art, Cumming investigates this case of stolen identity with the toolset of a detective and the unique intimacy of a daughter trying to understand her family’s past and its legacies. Compulsive, vivid, and profoundly touching, Five Days Gone is a masterful blend of memoir and history, an extraordinary personal narrative unlike any other.


Compare

INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez Laura Cumming shares the riveting story of her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—and how that event reverberated through her own family and her art for decades. In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez Laura Cumming shares the riveting story of her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—and how that event reverberated through her own family and her art for decades. In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she was kidnapped from a beach on the Lincolnshire coast of England. There were no screams when she was taken, suggesting the culprit was someone familiar to her, and when she turned up again in a nearby village several days later, she was found in perfect health and happiness. No one was ever accused of a crime. The incident quickly faded from her memory, and her parents never discussed it. To the contrary, they deliberately hid it from her, and she did not learn of it for half a century. This was not the only secret her parents kept from her. For many years, while raising her in draconian isolation and protectiveness, they also hid the fact that she’d been adopted, and that shortly after the kidnapping, her name was changed from Grace to Betty. In Five Days Gone, Laura Cumming brilliantly unspools the tale of her mother’s life and unravels the multiple mysteries at its core. Using photographs from the time, historical documents, and works of art, Cumming investigates this case of stolen identity with the toolset of a detective and the unique intimacy of a daughter trying to understand her family’s past and its legacies. Compulsive, vivid, and profoundly touching, Five Days Gone is a masterful blend of memoir and history, an extraordinary personal narrative unlike any other.

30 review for On Chapel Sands: The Mystery of My Mother's Disappearance as a Child

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    Laura Cumming found the inspiration to write this memoir in a story of a 3-year-old girl who was abducted in 1929 from a beach, and was found safe and sound after five days. This story had a happy end, even a double one, as the little girl had no memories of the event as she grew older. This all sounds like a plot of a good thriller, however, it is even better than that, since the little girl was Ms Cumming’s mother. After years of silence, secrets and allusions, Laura Cumming decided to investi Laura Cumming found the inspiration to write this memoir in a story of a 3-year-old girl who was abducted in 1929 from a beach, and was found safe and sound after five days. This story had a happy end, even a double one, as the little girl had no memories of the event as she grew older. This all sounds like a plot of a good thriller, however, it is even better than that, since the little girl was Ms Cumming’s mother. After years of silence, secrets and allusions, Laura Cumming decided to investigate what really had happened on the beach in Chapel, a small sea-side village, and this was the beginning of unravelling incredibly complicated family history. The story in which voices from the past and pictures gradually complete the puzzle that consists of hundreds of pieces. I seldom turn to memoirs, but I am happy to have read this one, and a thank-you to the Authoress for all emotions this book stirred in me. I listened to an audiobook, the narrator is Ms Cumming herself, and I truly enjoyed listening to her steady, not-that-hasty reading

  2. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Mystery of Origin How does consciousness emerge? We are not born with it. We cannot remember being without it. Suddenly it is there. A mystery. There is a before and an after. But there is no way to pinpoint the event. After it occurs we have memories, uncertain but nevertheless our own. Before the event, we rely on other people, external evidence, to confirm our existence. If that evidence is incomplete or contradictory, even greater mysteries arise. The mystery of consciousness for Laura Cum The Mystery of Origin How does consciousness emerge? We are not born with it. We cannot remember being without it. Suddenly it is there. A mystery. There is a before and an after. But there is no way to pinpoint the event. After it occurs we have memories, uncertain but nevertheless our own. Before the event, we rely on other people, external evidence, to confirm our existence. If that evidence is incomplete or contradictory, even greater mysteries arise. The mystery of consciousness for Laura Cumming’s mother is punctuated by her abduction just as consciousness is forming. The abduction is a public event which makes an entire community involved in what is otherwise a strictly personal process. But both her family and the denizens of her Lincolnshire coastal village conspire to keep her unconscious life from her until middle age. Five Days Gone is a memoir of recovery of that hidden life. The abduction is an awfully good trope upon which to hang the entire tale. According to most schools of psychology, our personalities are fixed during our unconscious first few years. Carl Jung suggested that our conscious selves are merely flotsam on a sea of unconsciousness. Our fears, presumptions about the world, social sensitivities and inhibitions, and perhaps even ambitions are created subtly but decisively in this sea, which affect not only our own lives but is passed along to our progeny. The presumption of therapy is that knowing what happened in the vast void can neutralise its affects. I’m not so sure. To be of therapeutic benefit, I presume any story we tell ourselves about the void has to be coherent. We are, after all, engaging in a kind of personal theology in which the creator-spirit must provide some rationale for the way we are. Even if that creator-spirit turns out to be a less than benign demon, therapy only works if that demon is rational according to its own lights. Therapy is especially awkward if the subject is not ourselves but our forebears. It is the contents of their void which has, although indirectly, dominated the formation of ours. But what we have to work with is stories from others, photographs, rumours, sterile official documents, and an ultimate cultural oeuvre. In Cumming’s case, this latter is that of an isolated, inbred, English seaside village of the 1930’s. And it seems that it is this culture which her mother was most shaped by and most reacted against for the rest of her life. And this archaic culture, in turn, dominated Cumming’s psychic inheritance. To know that one is the product of a general culture is not news. And I doubt that it has much therapeutic import. It may be important in relativising one’s opinions and presumptions. But its unlikely to provide an explanation, and therefore a ‘cure,’ for specific neuroses. It’s not even very personally satisfying except as history (or poetry, such as Jung’s archetypes). As Cumming’s mother realises, “We hide behind other people’s words, lose our self-consciousness in playing someone else.” Whatever the individual is, she is not to be found in generalities. But neither do the unique details of one’s life help very much. Firstly, since most are not really unique. More importantly, because the impact of strange parents, a dim family history, vaguely medieval neighbours, and odd family conventions can’t be predicted. Do these things shape or is it their rejection which directs our lives? The enduring shock seems to occur when it becomes clear that almost everyone I know, knows something about me that I don’t, and they aren’t telling. This makes the world untrustworthy as a matter of principle. It is suspicion of the world - it’s motives, intentions, and its capacity for lies - that seems to be passed along, filling the unconscious void of the child, as if it were biological. Suspicion changes the mystery of consciousness into a threat. Filling in the unconscious void with meandering dream-like facts may not be a good idea since every additional fact confirms yet another falsehood. The subtle hostility of the world is not a neurotic delusion. Reality can be worse than imagination can allow. Just the opposite of therapy. The truth may be justifiably left alone. Could it be that the mystery of one’s origin is actually meant to be a secret? That that period of infantile unconsciousness is meant as a sort of buffer between the individual and what is essentially an unbearable legacy of human suffering? Without the void, would many of us maintain the burden of consciousness; or would we choose to end its reign? In any case, no amount of research-effort devoted to the mystery is likely to reduce its mysteriousness. In fact every anecdote told by another, every photograph, and every letter creates more mysteries. These we resolve with stories... or not, just as we could have done at the outset. Searching for oneself is ultimately like searching for the fossil of the first human being. Even holding such a thing in our hands, we wouldn’t know we had it. So after such an extensive trip through Cumming’s family life what is there but another imaginative story? That may be enough. “Paintings, unlike books, don’t divide between fiction and nonfiction,”remarks Cumming about a painting by Degas. And that is what her work amounts to: a magnificent prose painting.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 A mother and daughter search for answers in this unusual memoir. Family, art and the quest for identity are major themes as a set of photographs are the impetus that leads the daughter to try to track down the mystery of her mother's life. A family story with a mystery at the heart as her mother was taken when she was three and returned a few days later. Who took her and why was she returned? Following the clues in the pictures, she finds out her mother, now called Betty, was once called Gra 3.5 A mother and daughter search for answers in this unusual memoir. Family, art and the quest for identity are major themes as a set of photographs are the impetus that leads the daughter to try to track down the mystery of her mother's life. A family story with a mystery at the heart as her mother was taken when she was three and returned a few days later. Who took her and why was she returned? Following the clues in the pictures, she finds out her mother, now called Betty, was once called Grace. So who was she really? This is a beautifully written but slowly unraveling story. The tone is wistful, almost haunting as information is discovered and new clues are revealed. Art is discussed, photographs are included, all leading to provide a picture of her mothers life. Although she knew her grandmother Vera, her grandfather was long dead. These were the people said to be her mother's, parents, the people whose past she learns much about and that helps lead to answers. At time I got impatient with the slowness of the story, but then something interesting will be discovered, at just the right moment. Plus the outstanding prose kept me reading. The ending was simple, but just perfect and heartening. "All around us our stories that cannot be squared or circled or turned into something so easily defined. Death, after all , comes to interrupt any narrative that looks as if it might have the audacity to try and complete itself." "Words and images . In life as in art we do not always see what is going on at the edges, or even the foreground, do not notice what seems irrelevant or superfluous to our needs and theories. Perception is guided by our own priorities." ARC from Edelweiss.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    She started out her life as Grace until she was adopted before age 3, then she was Betty. A name she never liked. Later she called herself Elizabeth. An older couple adopted her at age 3, George and Veda Elston. She grew to dislike George, who was controlling and didn’t want her mingling with others in the tiny village. She wasn’t allowed to go out and play with any of the local kids. This story is about the discovery of her strange disappearance that happened when she was about 3, but she wasn’ She started out her life as Grace until she was adopted before age 3, then she was Betty. A name she never liked. Later she called herself Elizabeth. An older couple adopted her at age 3, George and Veda Elston. She grew to dislike George, who was controlling and didn’t want her mingling with others in the tiny village. She wasn’t allowed to go out and play with any of the local kids. This story is about the discovery of her strange disappearance that happened when she was about 3, but she wasn’t aware of until she was in her 50’s, that’s shared with and written about by her daughter. Who took her and why? And for what reason was she returned days later…? Read to find out. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Laura Cumming, and the publisher. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4. Also on my WordPress blog: https://wordpress.com/post/bookblog20...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This book has its origins and setting in Chapel St Leonards, a village on the Lincolnshire coast. Being a Lincolnshire lad I therefore had to read this. Laura Cummings’s mother was brought up there and Cummings has set out to piece together her mother’s upbringing. Her mother was born in 1926, is still living and was adopted at the age of three. It was not until many years later and Cummings and her mother discovered that in 1929 three year old Betty was kidnapped from Chapel Sands and was not f This book has its origins and setting in Chapel St Leonards, a village on the Lincolnshire coast. Being a Lincolnshire lad I therefore had to read this. Laura Cummings’s mother was brought up there and Cummings has set out to piece together her mother’s upbringing. Her mother was born in 1926, is still living and was adopted at the age of three. It was not until many years later and Cummings and her mother discovered that in 1929 three year old Betty was kidnapped from Chapel Sands and was not found for five days: dressed in entirely different clothes and unharmed. She has no recollection of the event. Cummings in this account pieces together the mystery of her mother’s upbringing from some clues, some accounts from the descendants of those involved and an assortment of photographs. Cummings is an art historian and manages to get more from photographs than most of us would be able to: she takes objects and gives them meaning and pieces together life in an English village in the 1930s. She also examines Betty’s adoptive parents, George and Veda, already in their 40s, trying to isolate Betty from everyone around them and stop her mixing with others. For there are secrets in the village and in the neighbouring village of Hogsthorpe. There is a fine array of local characters and the narrative also stretches to the other side of the globe. Cummings traces Betty’s real mother and father (with a few real twists), the reasons for the kidnapping, Betty’s original name (Grace) and much more. Veda and George are examined closely: Veda is old enough to remember seeing Tennyson striding along Chapel Sands when she was a girl and Tennyson’s poetry crops up periodically. Cummings’s mother writes what she knows to help in her daughter’s quest (which takes many years to complete): “Because you have asked me, dear daughter, here are my earliest recollections. It is an English domestic genre canvas of the 1920s and 1930s, layered over with decades of fading and darkening, but your curiosity has begun to make all glow a little. And perhaps a few figures and events may turn out to be restored through the telling.” The memoir reflects the depth and complexity of family and village life and seeks to explain. Cummings, in an interview reflects on the process: “I had her memoir, I had my writings over many years about her, who I love very dearly, and I had many thoughts about this story. And I told the story, a specific aspect of the story, which is the baker’s van, which arrives from the windmill at Hogsthorpe and never stops at her house. I wanted to get to the bottom of this and I saw the thing to do, with my mother’s blessing. I went to Chapel St Leonards. I took a room in a farm nearby and I spent a long time on the beach. Every day I’d go to the beach and I’d think about this scene. I’d go up to the Beacon and I went to the house where my mother lived and I’d have a drink in the Vine. I went round and round. I did the walk from Chapel to Mablethorpe. I did the walk from Chapel to Skegness and I thought about this period in time. And local historians in and around Chapel have done a wonderful job of publishing a lot of beautifully written local history. In Skegness Library you can look up old copies of the Skegness Times. It was very evocative. The book came into the form it’s in simply from being in the landscape in Lincolnshire. I’d stand on those sands and she was there, my grandfather was there, the Vikings were there. The compression of time was a great advantage for me.” I really enjoyed the writing and the unravelling of the background to the tale; it helped a little having some awareness of the geography. It illustrates well the complexity of families: “Everyone has a mother, everyone has an uncle who wasn’t really their uncle, or whose sister was in fact their mother, or whose grandparents aren’t their grandparents. It’s completely common. All family photo albums are full of things we don’t notice and that’s the campaign of the book: look more closely. There’s always a figure in the background or someone who is not there. Who’s taken the photograph?” This was a pleasure to read, capturing a lost time without sentimentality or nostalgia.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    I heard about this book on NPR, and it sounded so compelling that I immediately acquired a copy. There is too much book for the story. I almost immediately guessed the kernel of the story, and although the NPR piece had set me up for a big surprise at the end, none came--what I had already guessed was the whole surprise. The writing is overwrought, with detail that becomes truly excruciating as well as repetitive. I can see where writing this was an act of love on the part of the author for her I heard about this book on NPR, and it sounded so compelling that I immediately acquired a copy. There is too much book for the story. I almost immediately guessed the kernel of the story, and although the NPR piece had set me up for a big surprise at the end, none came--what I had already guessed was the whole surprise. The writing is overwrought, with detail that becomes truly excruciating as well as repetitive. I can see where writing this was an act of love on the part of the author for her mother, but not being her mother, I was less impressed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ingrid

    The author painted a beautiful picture of her mother's life and times. As I pictured this little girl I wish I could have taken her in my arms, she had such a hard life. While reading I realised was not so very different from my own mother's life story. It also occurred to me that preserving photos and other material from grandparents, great grandparents does help to find out how they lived. I know so little in that respect. The author painted a beautiful picture of her mother's life and times. As I pictured this little girl I wish I could have taken her in my arms, she had such a hard life. While reading I realised was not so very different from my own mother's life story. It also occurred to me that preserving photos and other material from grandparents, great grandparents does help to find out how they lived. I know so little in that respect.

  8. 4 out of 5

    JimZ

    This was an outstanding memoir by Laura Cumming about her mother, Elizabeth (other names: Grace, Betty). I only became aware of it from the Briefly Noted section of The New Yorker (September 16, 2019 issue). I hope if you have not read it that you do. 'Five Days Gone' is a memoir of a child who was kidnaped in the fall of 1929 for 5 days in Lincolnshire (a county in eastern England, with a long coastline on the North Sea to the east). A substantial piece of the book is about Elizabeth (other nam This was an outstanding memoir by Laura Cumming about her mother, Elizabeth (other names: Grace, Betty). I only became aware of it from the Briefly Noted section of The New Yorker (September 16, 2019 issue). I hope if you have not read it that you do. 'Five Days Gone' is a memoir of a child who was kidnaped in the fall of 1929 for 5 days in Lincolnshire (a county in eastern England, with a long coastline on the North Sea to the east). A substantial piece of the book is about Elizabeth (other names: Grace, Betty) after those 5 days when she was returned, and her life with her parents, George and Veda Elston, until she left for school (Nottingham College of Art and then in Scotland at the Edinburgh College of Art) at the age of 18. But an equally substantial part of the book is the author’s and her mother’s (Elizabeth’s) search for the circumstances under which she was kidnapped and who did it and why. I think about ¾ of the way through the book, in realizing what I was reading, a sense of sadness came upon me…not just for Elizabeth but for several other people who knew her. At the time of the writing of the memoir (2019) Laura Cumming’s mother Elizabeth was still alive but getting up there in years and ailing. The mother gave her permission for the story to be told. Laura Cumming, the author of this memoir about her mother, is an art critic and it shows in her writing –fabulously written prose – and her placement of several period pieces of artwork that provide not just illustrations in the novel but illustrations that reinforce or explain parts of the narrative. I try not to give away spoilers, but after reading this I can say that although I was sad at times while reading the book I was angry at only one person in the narrative and even then not to the point where I thought the person shouldn’t have walked the face of the earth. I finished the book 1) glad that I had made acquaintances with Elizabeth and her ancestors (and with her daughter Laura Cumming the author of the memoir), and 2) appreciative that I had just read a most enjoyable and hopefully unforgettable memoir. I give this my highest rating gladly. And I am glad I have company! 😊 Nominated for The 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award, one of NPR’s Best Books of 2019 Reviews: https://www.npr.org/2019/08/28/755177... (JimZ: Actually an interview on NPR with the author, Laura Cumming) https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book... https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20... Laura Cumming used some words in the book I was not familiar with, and I wanted to find out that they meant. Egad, one word (brassica) was not in my American Heritage Dictionary! Brassica: a genus of plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). The members of the genus are informally known as cruciferous vegetables, cabbages, or mustard plants. Crops from this genus are sometimes called cole crops—derived from the Latin caulis, denoting the stem or stalk of a plant. Dun: a dull grayish-brown color. Rhotacism: is the inability to pronounce or difficulty in pronouncing r sound. (JimZ: I remember in 2nd grade that I had to read to my father after dinner because a teacher said I could not pronounce my ‘r’s’…I would say “wed wooster” rather than “red rooster.” ☹ Luckily I outgrew my rhotacism.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive! For along time I thought those lines were written by Alexander Pope, but the internet tells me that their author was in fact Walter Scott, so much for my innocent illusions. Laura Cumming - art critic for The Guardian newspaper tells in this memoir how her illusions and ideas about her mother and her mother's early life were changed during the course of her researches. I found the story and the way it was told - integrating discussio oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive! For along time I thought those lines were written by Alexander Pope, but the internet tells me that their author was in fact Walter Scott, so much for my innocent illusions. Laura Cumming - art critic for The Guardian newspaper tells in this memoir how her illusions and ideas about her mother and her mother's early life were changed during the course of her researches. I found the story and the way it was told - integrating discussions of paintings and photography with her mother's life completely natural and enlightening (view spoiler)[ looking at other reviews, opinions do vary about this though (hide spoiler)] . The story she uncovers is odd, but I suspect in those days, back in 1930s England it was not so unusual. The author's mother is told when she is a teenager that she was adopted, but it turns out not to be as simple as that. Finding out though just how complex the story was, was hampered by the habit of secrecy that people maintain even after those most directly involved are dead. An intriguing piece of domestic detective work and a slightly sad evocation of a vanished time. I recommend it warmly.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This account of the uncovering of the past that was hidden to the author’s mother for much of her life has been much lauded, and I can only add to the chorus of praise. I loved the writing, the delicate unraveling of the mystery, the importance given to images, and the illumination of love between mothers and daughters. On an autumn evening in 1929, three year-old Betty Elston was taken from a Lincolnshire beach. Her mother, Veda, was close at hand as her daughter played happily on Chapel Sands, This account of the uncovering of the past that was hidden to the author’s mother for much of her life has been much lauded, and I can only add to the chorus of praise. I loved the writing, the delicate unraveling of the mystery, the importance given to images, and the illumination of love between mothers and daughters. On an autumn evening in 1929, three year-old Betty Elston was taken from a Lincolnshire beach. Her mother, Veda, was close at hand as her daughter played happily on Chapel Sands, but her attention wandered, she looked away, and when she looked back the child had vanished. Her father, George, a travelling salesman, was called home; the police were summoned; but a few days later, the little girl was found safe and well in a nearby village, completely unharmed but dressed in a brand new set of clothes. She was restored to her parents, her memory of what had happened would fade away, and her life would go on. It was a strange, and often unhappy, life for young Betty. Her parents kept her close, barely letting her mix with other children, and they held themselves apart from their neighbours, only keeping in touch with a few old friends. You might think that they were being over- protective after what had happened; but if that was the case why did there daughter feel no warmth from them, and why did she hear no words of love and care, not even one single word of reassurance after a strange encounter led her her father to tell her that she had been adopted? Betty eventually escapes from the confines of her life, to art college in the distant city of Edinburgh; where she will build a new life, as an artist, as a wife, and as mother. Laura Cumming is Betty Elson’s daughter, and as she grew up she came to realise that her mother never spoke about her own childhood. When Elizabeth (who modified her name, as she had always hated being called Betty) asked what she would most like for her 21st birthday, Laura answered the tale of her mother’s early life. The mother wrote: Because you have asked me, dear daughter, here are my earliest recollections. It is an English domestic genre canvas of the 1920s and 1930s, layered over with decades of fading and darkening, but your curiosity has begun to make all glow a little. And perhaps a few figures and events may turn out to be restored through the telling. And the daughter noted: This memoir is short, ending with her teenage years, but its writing carries so much of her grace, her truthful eloquence and witness, her artist’s way of looking at the world. That was the beginning of the journey that is recorded in this book, a journey that Laura Cumming made in the hope of filling in the gaps in her mother’s memory and allowing them both to understand why her early life played out as it did. I was captivated by her voice, which was intelligent, warm and compassionate. I loved the way that she used words to paint vivid pictures of her mother and the world that spun around her; and the way that she scrutinised images – both paintings and photographs from the family album – and gained understanding of both the subject and the creator. The mystery that unravels is cleverly structured and the revelations are judged and timed perfectly. Some are unsurprising but others made me stop and re-evaluate what I knew and what I thought I knew. It reveals a remarkable human story, aspects of which I know will resonate with many readers, and firmly rooted in its place and time. The arc of the story is relatively simple, but this is not a book to read just to learn the story, it is a book to read to appreciate all of the things that are threaded through that story. There is very real social history; there is a willingness to learn and to understand; and there is exactly the right amount of restraint – lives and families and communities are illuminated but there is no intrusion and no assumption about things that could not be known. There is a wonderful appreciation of the depth and complexity of family love; and it the loveliest of tributes from a daughter to a mother. I’m trying not to say too much, because I was told more that I wanted to know about this book before I started to read. And so I will simply finish by saying that this book is beautiful, moving and profound.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sheard

    This one suffers from too much, and misleading, marketing hype. There's not much of a mystery, since everyone in Chapel apparently knew the truth except the author's mother. But I think a bigger problem is that the author, by her own admission, really only has a handful of photos and some very incomplete and biased childhood stories, but then speculates (often pretty wildly) about what her grandfather was actually like. This isn't a true crime book. It isn't a mystery. It's a couple hundred page This one suffers from too much, and misleading, marketing hype. There's not much of a mystery, since everyone in Chapel apparently knew the truth except the author's mother. But I think a bigger problem is that the author, by her own admission, really only has a handful of photos and some very incomplete and biased childhood stories, but then speculates (often pretty wildly) about what her grandfather was actually like. This isn't a true crime book. It isn't a mystery. It's a couple hundred pages of grand conjecture, with some art history thrown in for no apparent reason other than that the author is an art critic.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a moving memoir, by Laura Cumming, about her mother’s early life. Her mother, Elizabeth, was known as Betty as a child, but, before that, she was Grace. She lived in a seaside village, Chapel St Leonards, where, one day in 1929, she was abducted from the beach. One moment she played on the sand, with her adopted mother, Veda, the next she was snatched away and was missing for some days. In this book, Laura Cumming attempts to uncover the mystery of this mysterious event in her mother’s ea This is a moving memoir, by Laura Cumming, about her mother’s early life. Her mother, Elizabeth, was known as Betty as a child, but, before that, she was Grace. She lived in a seaside village, Chapel St Leonards, where, one day in 1929, she was abducted from the beach. One moment she played on the sand, with her adopted mother, Veda, the next she was snatched away and was missing for some days. In this book, Laura Cumming attempts to uncover the mystery of this mysterious event in her mother’s early life, as well as unearthing her true heritage. What is also clear is that this is not just a tale of those immediately involved, but of the community. As so often happens, people living in the village – who knew Betty – conspired to keep the secret of her birth; even from her. I found this an extremely sad read at times, but Laura’s love for her mother is what really makes the memoir work, and puts her at the centre of her family, as she was once the centre of a mystery.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Navi

    Laura Cumming is my new favourite nonfiction author. I read The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece last year and was completely blown away by it. This is why I was so excited to read Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother's Disappearance as a Child. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed. This book is a true account of Cumming's mother's five day disappearance from a beach when she was a young child and the aftershocks that resulted from Laura Cumming is my new favourite nonfiction author. I read The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece last year and was completely blown away by it. This is why I was so excited to read Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother's Disappearance as a Child. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed. This book is a true account of Cumming's mother's five day disappearance from a beach when she was a young child and the aftershocks that resulted from that event. I don’t want to say too much because I think the real beauty of this book is how Cummings slowly unveils everything to the reader. She has the power to grip your attention from the first page to the last and is great at filling in the details even when she does not have the complete historical information. One of the things I loved about this book is how Cumming uses photographs in her text and is able to bring them to life with her acute observation and creative flourish. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I highly recommend it to everyone. I cannot wait to read whatever she comes out with next!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    I really tried, but this book meanders all over the place. I only got to page 75 and gave it up.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    I talk about this book in a Booktube video about the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction 2019 Shortlist. I talk about this book in a Booktube video about the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction 2019 Shortlist.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    I loved it. The opening chapter sets the scene, recounting the story of a little girl of three years playing on the beach near her mother and her shocking disappearance.  It is a familiar scene, the beach being down a path not far from their home, the tide going out, the sea half a mile in the distance, her mother Vera inattentive for a moment sees nothing. One minute she was there, barefoot and absorbed, spade in hand, seconds later she was taken off the sands at the village of Chapel St Leonard I loved it. The opening chapter sets the scene, recounting the story of a little girl of three years playing on the beach near her mother and her shocking disappearance.  It is a familiar scene, the beach being down a path not far from their home, the tide going out, the sea half a mile in the distance, her mother Vera inattentive for a moment sees nothing. One minute she was there, barefoot and absorbed, spade in hand, seconds later she was taken off the sands at the village of Chapel St Leonards apparently without anybody noticing at all. Thus my mother was kidnapped. The little girl, Betty, was found five days later and returned to her family. Laura Cumming learns about this event in her mother's life many years later, something her mother has no recollection of, a mystery unsolved, yet it is a turning point in her life explaining why she never went to the beach or left the front yard of their house or played with other children from school. Her life began with a false start and continued with a long chain of deceptions, abetted by acts of communal silence so determined they have continued into my life too. The mystery of what happened, how it changed her, and her own children, has run through my days ever since I first heard of the incident on the beach thirty years ago. Rather than seek to resolve the mystery, the book introduces us to the main characters like a novel, including black and white photos, not collected in the middle of the book but placed amidst the text where we read about them. They are described in a way that makes me flick back to look at them again and again, and I realise this isn't just a daughter telling a story about her mother, this is an art historian studying a family portrait looking for clues - and finding answers. To my surprise the truth turns out to pivot on images as much as words. To discover it has involved looking harder, looking closer, paying more attention to the smallest of visual details - the clues in a dress, the distinctive slant of a copperplate hand, the miniature faces in the family album. She poses many unanswered questions about the events that occurred and seeks answers in the photos she possesses, assembling evidence with the assurity of a forensic expert. Her mother was an artist and taught her how to notice and remember images seen in a museum long before telephones could record them. It has become the way she thinks. A sense of place is created through references to Dutch painters, there being a resemblance in this landscape to Holland. The flattest of all English counties, Lincolnshire is also the least altered by time, or mankind, and still appears nearly medieval in its ancient maze of dykes and paths. It faces the Netherlands across the water and on a tranquil day it sometimes feels as if you could walk straight across to the rival flatness of Holland. Characters are pondered deeply through photos and family paintings, the author finding inspiration and clues even in more famous works that help us understand the narrative power of an image. By the time I got to reading about Degas's The Bellelli Family, I had to put the book down and seek the painting out to see more clearly the father's revealing hand placement mentioned and the escaping dog. What an incredible painting! I was completely hooked, even looking up to see which museum this painting hangs, and what luck, it's in the musée d'Orsay in Paris, at least I live in the right country to visit it. Serendipitously, that same day, Laura Cumming wrote an article in the Observer about the collective yearning for visiting art exhibitions; for Velázquez in Edinburgh, Monet in Glasgow, Goya in Cambridge, Rembrandt at Kenwood House, Poussin in Dulwich, Gwen John in Sheffield. Cumming is aided by her mother's writing, the photographs and a little by the visits they would make back to the place of her birth, but she holds out on the big reveal on what really happened until midway into the book, by which time the reader is increasingly desperate have confirmed what she is beginning to suspect. For my twenty-first birthday, my mother gave me the gift I most wanted: the tale of her early life. This memoir is short, ending with her teenage years, but its writing carries so much of her grace, her truthful eloquence and witness, her artist's way of looking at the world. She was fifty-six when she sat down to write and still knew nothing about the kidnap, or her existence before it, except that she had been born in a mill house in 1926; or rather as it seemed to her, that some other baby had arrived there. Once Cumming learns the truth, there are a roller coaster of emotions spilling onto the page, from anger, disbelief and outrage to sadness, regret and finally some semblance of compassion for those involved. On the continued collective silence though, a protective gesture to cover-up shame, that distorted her mother's life, she says "in a way, I can't forgive them." I suppose my book, quite apart from being a memoir about my mother and what happened to her and this mystery - it's also a campaign against collective silence because these people who knew - they knew. There's so much more I could say and share, but I urge you rather to read it yourself, particularly if you have an interest in memoir, in mother-daughter dynamics and understanding how art reveals life. It's a fantastic read, one I'd actually like to read again. And the NPR radio interview is excellent. N.B. In the US the title is Five Days Gone. NPR Radio, Listen: Laura Cumming Explores Her Mother's Brief Disappearance In 'Five Days Gone' To Read:  An Extract from On Chapel Sands

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Howdle

    Sometimes blurbs do books a disservice and that fact applies here. The marketting of On Chapel Sands plays into our lurid imaginations: a child is kidnapped and goes missing for days... child abuse, crime, terror? This appears to be the source of frustration felt by some Goodreads reviewers. And the fact that some think it is a novel and judge it incorrectly. There is nothing sensational about On Chapel Sands. Quite the opposite-- it is filled with disturbing ripples, rather like Anita Brookner Sometimes blurbs do books a disservice and that fact applies here. The marketting of On Chapel Sands plays into our lurid imaginations: a child is kidnapped and goes missing for days... child abuse, crime, terror? This appears to be the source of frustration felt by some Goodreads reviewers. And the fact that some think it is a novel and judge it incorrectly. There is nothing sensational about On Chapel Sands. Quite the opposite-- it is filled with disturbing ripples, rather like Anita Brookner or Penelope Fitzgerald. In this biography of her mother, Laura Cummins investigates a simple fact: why were there no pictures of her mother before three years old? Why was she known as Grace then Betty? Why was her mysterious disappearance from the beach concealed from her? The result is a slow and fascinating unravelling of a life. Cummins has an aesthetic background (like her mother). Consequently, this is rather more than just a biography. It is a study of how a biographer sees and interprets through pictures, real pictures, paintings and photographs, and through picture shaped from life by the imagination. Cummins is a modest and illuminating writer and this results in a book that is really about human relationship at its most sensitive: the bond between mother and daughter. In a way, psychological archaeology-- peeling the past back layer by layer until another world is revealed. On Chapel Sands is also an investigation of a lost rural landscape, one that Cummins approaches without nostalgia and sentimentality. This is a fine and slowly revelatory book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC radio 4 - Book of the week: In her new book, the art critic Laura Cumming unravels the mystery of her mother's disappearance one day in late 1929. Five days went by before she was found unharmed, but she remembered nothing of these events and the silence about what happened remained for fifty years when the circumstances of her kidnap came to light. Laura finds clues in everyday objects and crucially the family photo album, and her search for the truth uncovers a series of secrets, betra From BBC radio 4 - Book of the week: In her new book, the art critic Laura Cumming unravels the mystery of her mother's disappearance one day in late 1929. Five days went by before she was found unharmed, but she remembered nothing of these events and the silence about what happened remained for fifty years when the circumstances of her kidnap came to light. Laura finds clues in everyday objects and crucially the family photo album, and her search for the truth uncovers a series of secrets, betrayals and heartache. Read by Laura Cumming and Susan Jameson. Abridged by Katrin Williams Produced by Elizabeth Allard https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    One for readers of The Hare with Amber Eyes (Edmund de Waal) and Rosie (Rose Tremain): a family memoir whose tone of emotional detachment is in keeping with the mores of the time it writes about. Cumming’s mother, Betty, was raised by adoptive parents, George and Veda Elston. But in 1929 something strange happened: three-year-old Betty was kidnapped from a beach in Lincolnshire and found five days later. Even stranger: at that time she was known as Grace. Cumming and her mother only learned the One for readers of The Hare with Amber Eyes (Edmund de Waal) and Rosie (Rose Tremain): a family memoir whose tone of emotional detachment is in keeping with the mores of the time it writes about. Cumming’s mother, Betty, was raised by adoptive parents, George and Veda Elston. But in 1929 something strange happened: three-year-old Betty was kidnapped from a beach in Lincolnshire and found five days later. Even stranger: at that time she was known as Grace. Cumming and her mother only learned the truth of her parentage and upbringing in the 1980s: (view spoiler)[George was her biological father, but her mother was Hilda Blanchard, a young woman from a local mill-owning and baking family. She was forced to sign a contract permanently giving Grace to George and his wife, and moved to Australia, where she bore two more children but always kept a photograph of Grace beside her bed. It seems George did genuinely love Hilda: he continued to send her photos of their daughter, all the way to Australia. (hide spoiler)] In this book, which incorporates fragments of a brief memoir her mother wrote in her sixties, Cumming constructs her family’s history slowly, often looking to photographs for the surprising facts they reveal about family members and their interactions. “Photography gives us memories we hardly knew we had. … Through photographs, we have relationships with people unknown.” She ponders how much of an effect her mother’s early years had on her, and struggles to understand and forgive George. The author is an art historian, and at times her discussion of paintings borders on the irrelevant; more fitting is when she describes Lincolnshire scenes as if they were Constable or Rembrandt landscapes, or likens a photo George took of Veda to a Vermeer. A quiet and gently rewarding book, but not one that will stay with me. Favorite lines: “Memories calcify over the years: everything grows more extreme – the brightness incandescent, the darkness infinitely worse.” “The lives of our parents before we were born are surely the first great mystery.” “Here is the dilemma for the adopted child: how to love and respect both mothers, the one unknown as well as the one who is here every day.” “although he is my grandfather, and I have his blood, he is like all long-distant ancestors to me – these people of the past who elude us, no matter how hard we try to drag them back out of time’s tide. A photograph and an anecdote or two; if we are lucky, some writing or a headstone.”

  20. 4 out of 5

    Clancy

    The story sounded more interesting when I heard the author interviewed on NPR. Unfortunately, the book rambled with endless and tedious art history tangents that did not move the story along at all. Towards the end, it was just a slog to get through it in the hopes that the resolution would be compelling. It was not. If you're an art history buff, you might really enjoy this book. The prose was beautiful at times and was generally quiet. But, I would recommend being in the mood for a lot of stil The story sounded more interesting when I heard the author interviewed on NPR. Unfortunately, the book rambled with endless and tedious art history tangents that did not move the story along at all. Towards the end, it was just a slog to get through it in the hopes that the resolution would be compelling. It was not. If you're an art history buff, you might really enjoy this book. The prose was beautiful at times and was generally quiet. But, I would recommend being in the mood for a lot of stillness. And a near stream-of-consciousness experience.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Robert Blumenthal

    I thought this was going to be more of a memoir. It really isn't. It is more of a tribute to a mother and her mysterious past. And it is very compelling (eventually) and moving. Laura Cumming's mother, Betty, was kidnapped from a beach when she was three years old, later to be found and returned to her adopted parents five days later. There is the mystery of who took her, how she was taken from a very open and barren beach, and why she was returned. And why was she adopted at the age of three to I thought this was going to be more of a memoir. It really isn't. It is more of a tribute to a mother and her mysterious past. And it is very compelling (eventually) and moving. Laura Cumming's mother, Betty, was kidnapped from a beach when she was three years old, later to be found and returned to her adopted parents five days later. There is the mystery of who took her, how she was taken from a very open and barren beach, and why she was returned. And why was she adopted at the age of three to a couple twice her mother's age and what were the circumstances of her birth. Also why was her name changed from Grace to Betty. This is the central mystery explored by the author, and most of the questions are answered, though some with very educated guesses. The book doesn't advance the narrative so much at the beginning, with lots of descriptions of the areas of Lincolnshire in England and the characters in Laura and her mother's lives. Once the book really starts exploring the mystery of Betty's birth it becomes much more compelling. An encounter on a bus, several found photographs, a finding of some important individuals are the beginnings of Laura being able to piece together her mother's life. There was great secrecy established about Betty's birth and adoption, and the secrets were very well kept. Betty was forced to live a very cloistered, protected life, allusions to being in a prison were presented several times throughout the book. And yet she came out of all this fine, was able to provide a wonderful and loving relationship to her children, and became a loving grandmother. Laura Cumming obviously has a tremendous amount of affection for her mother, and this comes through significantly in this book. There are photographs of people and paintings throughout the book which serve as a reference to the details emerging which are very well used by the author. It's a beautifully written account, and though a bit overly descriptive at first, becomes a compelling narrative.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sonya

    An elegantly written meditation on family, identity, secrets, memory and imagery.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    This book took ages to get going about the family mystery felt it could be much shorter but did find the overall story interesting as this must of happened alot around the country before the Adoption act was introduced.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mairi Byatt

    I have been so moved by this stunning novel, also learnt so much about art, and given me an appreciation I have never known before. I was actually at school with Laura for 12 years and always liked her but never really got to know her - my loss! I could have known one of the most emotive caring and beautiful people on the planet! Please, please read this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Liz Roberts

    This is an an amazing book, so riveting that I couldn't put it down.It's a look through photographs ,stories, and lies seen through both the author 's and her mother's eyes. You hunger for more details with each page, and feel your loyalties change with each revelation.Brilliant, brilliant writing. This is an an amazing book, so riveting that I couldn't put it down.It's a look through photographs ,stories, and lies seen through both the author 's and her mother's eyes. You hunger for more details with each page, and feel your loyalties change with each revelation.Brilliant, brilliant writing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sherrie

    Written well, but very slow to develop and much too long. The actual story of the kidnap of the author's mother doesn't really need a book this long and the chapter where all is revealed is almost at the end. Written well, but very slow to develop and much too long. The actual story of the kidnap of the author's mother doesn't really need a book this long and the chapter where all is revealed is almost at the end.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maura Heaphy Dutton

    A fascinating family memoir, intensely moving in the way it captures a lost past. Laura Cummings, as a late-life gift to her beloved mother, has drawn together the threads of the story of her mother's birth and up-bringing, a story so bizarre and emotionally convoluted that it could easily pass as the outline of a lost novel by Thomas Hardy. Cummings uses one episode from her mother's infancy as the hook to draw her readers in: when Betty was three years old, she was "kidnapped" out from under he A fascinating family memoir, intensely moving in the way it captures a lost past. Laura Cummings, as a late-life gift to her beloved mother, has drawn together the threads of the story of her mother's birth and up-bringing, a story so bizarre and emotionally convoluted that it could easily pass as the outline of a lost novel by Thomas Hardy. Cummings uses one episode from her mother's infancy as the hook to draw her readers in: when Betty was three years old, she was "kidnapped" out from under her mother's eyes, as she played on the beach outside their home, the Chapel Sands of the title. I use the quotation marks advisedly, as the snatching of the child turns out to be a tipping point in a complicated family saga. No charges were pressed, and no one was prosecuted -- although there were serious consequences for the kidnappers, and for "Betty." Who, technically should also be bracketed in quotation marks as, until a few days before the kidnapping, she had been called Grace, she had lived with a different family, and had a different life laid out for her. I defy you to read that, and not want to rush out and grab this book in your hot little hands, immediately. The whole story is a corker, and I won't spoil it for you by revealing any more -- Cummings has done an amazing job of family history research, detective work, reconstruction of time past, and sheer footwork, and you deserve to discover it just as she lays it out. But just to give you an idea of what she was up against, as she embarked on her research-- her mother (now no longer Grace or Betty, but Elizabeth) had no memory of the kidnapping, and knew nothing about it until she was in her 50s. Just one of the pattern of secrets and lies that surrounded this otherwise ordinary little girl. This book is exceptional for the way that it reconstructs the lost world of Betty's childhood. To quote another Edwardian author, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." And for Betty's past, her daughter has to drawn the maps, write the guide books, and devise the translations of helpful phrases. And she does this so skilfully that you can feel the stale atmosphere of the tiny, over-furnished rooms, smell the boiled cabbage that accompanied bland, unimaginative meals, and feel the hairs on the back of your neck prickle as you are observed by people who know more about you than you do yourself. As a journalist who specializes in art history and criticism, it's not surprising that Cummings makes skilful use of images: both family photographs, which are revealed to be fraught with hidden meanings and emotional undercurrents, and even classic paintings, which she uses to illustrate some of her points about family relationships, secrets and story-telling. The only flaw -- the reason that it's 4-stars instead of 5 -- is that, for me, it can be overwritten. Cummings is obviously very taken with the Hardyesque nature of her story, and in that spirit, the whole thing is imbued with a thick layer of poetry (aka, sometimes, and IMHO, as "cliche" ...). No object is allowed to get away without some deeper meeting, no vista doesn't lend some deeper insight into the very soul of the viewer. And every character, however minor, is on the lam from The Mayor of Casterbridge. To borrow an image from art, Cumming's tale of her mother's strange childhood is powerful enough that she really didn't need the veneer. But that's a flaw that is easily forgiven -- this is highly recommended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    JacquiWine

    I’ve been reading a few memoirs recently. Rather unusual for me as my preferences lean quite heavily towards fiction, often from the mid-20th-century. Nevertheless, I found myself drawn to this book when it came out earlier this year, prompted by a flurry of positive reports and reviews. Now that I’ve read it, I suspect it may well end up being one of the highlights of my reading year; it really is very good indeed. In brief, On Chapel Sands is the story of Laura’s mother, Betty Elston – more spe I’ve been reading a few memoirs recently. Rather unusual for me as my preferences lean quite heavily towards fiction, often from the mid-20th-century. Nevertheless, I found myself drawn to this book when it came out earlier this year, prompted by a flurry of positive reports and reviews. Now that I’ve read it, I suspect it may well end up being one of the highlights of my reading year; it really is very good indeed. In brief, On Chapel Sands is the story of Laura’s mother, Betty Elston – more specifically, her disappearance as a young child, snatched away from the beach at Chapel St Leonards in 1929. Five days later, Betty was found safe and well in a nearby village. She remembers nothing of the incident, and nobody at home ever mentions it again. Another fifty years pass before Betty learns of the kidnapping, by now a wife and mother herself with a rich and fulfilling life of her own. The book combines the threads of a tantalising mystery – who took Betty from Chapel Sands that day and why? – with elements of memoir. Together they provide a fascinating insight into the various members of Laura Cumming’s family, their personalities and motivations, their secrets and personal attachments. It also raises questions of nature vs nurture. How much of Betty’s character was there from birth, a sense of coming from within? And how much was shaped by the attitudes of her parents (in particular, her dictatorial father, George, with his controlling manner)? To read the rest of my review, please visit: https://jacquiwine.wordpress.com/2019...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    Enjoyed reading this and it's just about a 4 star book, but the more I think about it the more I'm not sure there's enough of a story here to warrant a full book. The sense of place is beautifully drawn - I know the area of Lincolnshire described. However, there's an awful lot or repetition and padding. The padding is done by what I can only describe as random art criticism, and whilst it is interesting it isn't really relevant. So, no surprises to find out that Cumming is an art critic! I also fai Enjoyed reading this and it's just about a 4 star book, but the more I think about it the more I'm not sure there's enough of a story here to warrant a full book. The sense of place is beautifully drawn - I know the area of Lincolnshire described. However, there's an awful lot or repetition and padding. The padding is done by what I can only describe as random art criticism, and whilst it is interesting it isn't really relevant. So, no surprises to find out that Cumming is an art critic! I also failed to see why Cumming felt so strongly about things that happened so long ago to her family. Everyone else seemed to have moved on but her obsession with unpicking the past and searching for 'answers' borders on unhealthy and unhelpful. And many of the book's illustrations (often reproductions of photos) were very poor.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Grace Hoffmann

    Beautiful writing. Somewhat wrenching memoir describing events of her mother's childhood in 1930s Lincolnshire. Extreme personal reticence unrecognizable to today. It's not a thriller but a beautiful reflection about mores, time and place. Loved it. Beautiful writing. Somewhat wrenching memoir describing events of her mother's childhood in 1930s Lincolnshire. Extreme personal reticence unrecognizable to today. It's not a thriller but a beautiful reflection about mores, time and place. Loved it.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...